Reflection :: The toll of Leadership and an year of being self employed

I have been very fortunate to be in leadership roles for 8 years now, ranging from Team Leadership, mentoring, to leading a practice (business line) of extremely competent Testers.

It has been in the top 3 fulfilling experiences of my professional & persona l life. Seeing individuals succeed with (some of) your assistance, advise and guidance is what made leadership so satisfying to me. Putting others first, always, and to shepherd them towards success is why I have kept leadership roles as a sought after career path. Growing and developing individuals and Team is a passion that blossomed , almost , as a second skin on me, during these stints in leadership roles.

However, what I did not realize , that I had also started wearing the foggy lens of a “careerist” and exercising questionable judgement during that time . By that , I mean –

a) Attaching self worth to the extent of my responsibilities . More responsibilities, new strategic projects, bigger Teams to help lead ,were all a measure of professional “success” for me

b) Incessant intellectual restlessness until that bar of self worth was reached and after every milestone finding that the bar just got higher, i.e. a vicious cycle.

c)Achieving outcomes for Team members in the face of corporate dysfunction and resistance ( aka the bread & butter of leadership roles) , made me “compromise” . Compromise with staying in/trying to change organisation behaviours in eco-systems where clearly, the org’s values/mindset and mine, did not match. But still I had to carry on , because the “Team can not be let down!” and leadership is a “balancing act” , at the end of the day

d)Surprise…surprise….this took focus away from my mental & physical well being ( in-spite of getting professional help) . Also took focus away from effectively exercising my role as a parent

This carried on for a dangerously long period for about 2 years until last July , when after only 4 weeks into a “dream” role, I quit ,without a job in hand .

My act of quitting was not a Buddha-esque lightning bolt of enlightenment but occurred because I could not just carry on , i was in hospital, twice in a matter of 2 weeks ,with dangerous symptoms of cardiac pain. My body and mind had plotted to conjure up the act of giving up.

I had to be ejected from the corporate hairball orbit , without a space suit , let alone a plan. I had close to 0 savings , borrowed money from my sister , and only thing foreseeable and enjoyable i had was to drop & pick kids from school as I could do it now. And the closest I had to a plan was to reach to ex-colleagues on LinkedIn and check out with my ex-employer to see if I can get my old desk back. I did not , which now in hindsight is the best that could have happened to me , because , what happened next and has been happening since has been equally fulfilling to the so called “zenith of professional success” that I had experienced earlier.

Gentle warning – I’m not suggesting that this path be followed at all , sorry who knows, whether you will be more or less lucky than what I was , but what transpired was that an ex client whom I had consulted before had a role for a contract Test Manager . I had nothing to lose , I had the courage to say no , I had the flexibility to try something new out and shun it if I did not like … well that was a fragrance I had not experienced before , so I followed the whiff . And it has been a sumptuous feast so far !

Over the past year –

a) I have worked on time & mission critical programme of work affecting daily lives of NewZealanders

b) I have been exposed to /tested new technologies that I had no experience before e.g. R, big data ETL , Machine Learning models

c) Achieved things that I yearned for in my leadership roles e.g. further deepen my tech skills, contribute to the Team in code on a daily basis , architect a cross functional Team from scratch.

d) And doing that at the same time as leveraging on my core skills of servant leadership , facilitation and critical thinking

During this very brief journey in being a self-employed contractor , it has dawned on me that being a “careerist” had not only definite negative inclinations but consequences too , as I was equating my self worth to my job title . Being a contractor has given me the gold dust of flexibility , where in

— I can choose to say no to organisations and walk away from oppurtunities when their demonstrated values/ethics dont align with mine ,without worrying about how would it look on my CV

— Exercise my core skills and develop new ones parallely

— Above all , take care of my family and myself , physically , mentally and spiritually.

Lastly,

Please dont get me wrong ,

I am not suffering fools, this joy ride is impermanent or contracting is somehow better than in house roles, objectively !

Self employment comes with some lusty challenges around inconsistent financial reward and the risk that poses e.g. to a young mortgage paying family . Creating a sustainable pipeline of work in an emerging but (relatively) small IT community wont be easy , but all i can say, is I am relishing every minute of this current joyride , with no mental demons to slay . And I would encourage every current/ex “careerist” to try freelancing/independent contracting atleast once in their career and/or feel free to reach out to me if you want a sounding board.

Stay well peers and flourish ! 🙂

6 thoughts on “Reflection :: The toll of Leadership and an year of being self employed

  1. Hi Sunjeet it is good to know that you have taken a path which fulfill your career goals as well satisfy your financial needs. Happy for you, I too left my job few months back and now working as an independent contractor, hope to catch up sometime. Sudha

    1. Great to hear from you Sudha ! All the best to you too for your contracting adventures 🙂

  2. I, too, left a role which I had been in for some considerable time for the world of self-employment in a totally different field. Although I had some level of professional creative success, I was never able to make any money from it. But in turn that meant that I went back into testing as a contractor and had a number of roles in different contracting situations. These in turn stood me in good stead when I was finally able to go back into salaried employment.

    The role I left was not in a leadership position – anything but – and in my case it was the culmination of fifteen years of the organisation sidelining me, together with national-level indifference to the well-being of its employees; we were seen as the problem, not the solution. Going into self-employment changed everything for me; not just my way of life but my overall achievements, status and ultimately professional standing. I can now point to a history of books published and participation in international forums, whilst I now work in an environment that is supportive and where I have the respect of my colleagues in ways that I’ve never experienced before. To get here, I had to ensure considerable personal hardship along the way – but I wouldn’t change a thing.

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